RETAIL TECHNOLOGY: Life in 3D

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Don’t let the biggest innovation since online shopping pass you by.

The self-professed futurists at Holition have caused a stir this year with magical 3D campaigns for brands like Boucheron and Tissot. Chief executive Jonathan Chippindale talks about how 3D can boost sales by 85 percent and says that soon the question won’t be why, but why aren’t companies using it.

When Avatar became the biggest grossing movie of all time last year after just six weeks in cinemas, it became clear that 3D had captured the world’s imagination.

Film analysts have written that the lure of Avatar, and the reason for its huge billion-dollar financial successes, was that it was the first of its kind; a new generation of 3D films that caused cinema goers to flock back to picture houses again and again to relive the magic.

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A year later and 3D technology is becoming mainstream. Nearly every major cinema blockbuster has a 3D adaptation, Nintendo has created a 3D version of its popular DS console and Sky TV and Virgin Media have launched 3D TV channels, allowing subscribers to experience 3D movies, sports and TV programmes in their homes.

London-based augmented reality retail specialists Holition knew this day would come and in preparation have been working on a range of 3D marketing products that it has been presenting to watch and jewellery brands over the past couple of years.

Holition is a joint venture between 3D technical specialist company Inition and a marketing firm with a background in luxury goods that has worked with companies including Asprey, Mappin & Webb, De Beers and Links of London. It also has a diamond boss on the board of directors. So while Holition has completed 3D projects for other brands including BMW and IBM, the company has focused much of its efforts on dragging the watch and jewellery industry into the future through 3D marketing.

“It’s a traditional, lumpy industry and not the easiest to convince,” laughs Holition brand director Lynne Murray. But slowly and surely the company has been turning brands on to the power of 3D.

A year ago Holition chief executive Jonathan Chippindale admits he was knocking on brands’ doors, but now he says they are coming to him. Getting brands to witness the technology is the hardest part, he claims, but once they do, the magic of Holition’s 3D creations sways nearly everybody. “Once you see the technology you just get it, but it’s very hard to describe,” Chippindale explains. “It’s a bit of a magical moment when you do, like when you first saw Avatar.”

Over the past year Holition has worked on high-profile 3D campaigns with Tissot, TAG Heuer, De Beers and Boucheron. As the first brands in the industry to embrace 3D marketing, Chippindale says it has modernised their image.

“Early adoption is a risk but the benefits are huge,” he says. “They get a fantastic tag applied to their brand as futurists and risk takers.”

The technology really does have to be seen to be believed, but once you do it’s an easy sell. Holition uses a quote by British science fiction author Arthur C Clarke as its inspiration: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And that’s exactly how it feels – magic.

The technology is surprisingly simple. To use standard programmes all you need is a specially marked piece of paper, called a Tip On, a high definition screen and a web camera. Print out the Tip On using a standard printer, apply to the wrist, finger or wherever you desire and stand in front of the camera and watch the screen to see a watch or piece of jewellery magically appear.

Once the product has popped up on the screen you can change the size, colour or model, and then the really magical experience begins. You can move around the room and the virtual piece of jewellery or watch will follow you, wrapping round your body perfectly and mimicking reality. If there are bright lights in the room then the diamonds will twinkle, if you step into a dark patch the watch face will appear darker and all watches tell the real time by linking to the clock on the computer.

It is this attention to detail that Holition believes has helped the luxury market open up to 3D technology. “We are focusing on delivering the best quality CAD, we understand the need for that,” says Chippindale. “While some might be interested in just the wow factor, luxury won’t touch it unless it’s the best, and the fact that these luxury brands are interested means that we’ve broken the barrier.”

The possibilities for 3D technology are vast. In July Holition worked with De Beers to create a 3D movie that it played in its window display in Isetan department store in Japan that didn’t require viewers to wear 3D glasses, offering a less intrusive option.

“De Beers had all these windows at Isetan but they weren’t bulletproof so they couldn’t put any products in them,” explains Chippindale. “So they came to us to create a virtual window display.”

The technology used to create the film, which featured three dramatic De Beers jewellery pieces, is called Allioscopy and doesn’t require glasses. “It takes a very high definition screen,” says Chippindale. “You wouldn’t want to watch a movie on it but it’s very effective at capturing the attention of people passing by for a cou¬ple of minutes.”

The 3D campaign proved successful and De Beers is planning a second. “This is a very old fashioned traditional jeweller reinventing itself as a modern jeweller, which is where we’re trying to take these brands,” says Chippendale.

This simple 3D film had limited inter¬action with shoppers other than com¬manding their attention on the street, but a campaign that Holition worked on with watch brand Tissot stopped hun¬dreds of shoppers in their tracks and got them to play with virtual watches outside Selfridges department store in London.

Tissot took over a window display at Selfridges for two weeks in May with a 3D window display. Shoppers passing the department store were handed a Tissot-branded Tip On and encouraged to stand in front of the window, which had been fitted with a high definition screen and web cam, to view themselves wearing a virtual Tissot watch.

The campaign went down a storm and the brand captured data on 10,000 people who had used the display over the two weeks, plus hundreds of those using the technology went on to post images and videos to social networking sites. The press also went wild for the story and in final analysis it was found that the 3D campaign generated 600 percent more press than any previous Tissot PR campaign.

“In the end it didn’t matter how many people tried it as it was about PR and it was the talk of the town,” states Chip¬pindale. “It’s wasn’t about the watches, it wasn’t about Tissot, it was about our technology and Tissot got coverage off the back of that.”

While the campaign had been de¬signed purely as a PR stunt, the 3D window display had an unexpected influence on sales at the Tissot counter in Selfridges. As part of the campaign Tis¬sot ran a competition inside Selfridges to get passers-by to enter the store, and as a result sales at the counter rocketed 85 percent during the two-week installation.

Tissot also gave away the Tip Ons, which were branded with its website details, in men’s magazines to encourage users to try the technology at home. TAG Heuer, as the first watch brand to use the technology in the UK back in April, had a similar web programme and in October Boucheron joined the revolution by in¬stalling a 3D function on its website.

By taking the 3D technology out of the stores and onto the web, luxury brands such as Boucheron and TAG Heuer are helping shoppers who might be intimi¬dated by going into a store, experience the brand in the comfort of their own home. “We’re not saying it’s the same as trying on a product but its taking the consumer one step closer to the brand,” says Chippindale.

The watch and jewellery industry has been slow to take to new technology and Chippendale says part of the challenge has been convincing brands that their target customers will interact with 3D and the social networking aspects at¬tached to such campaigns.

“Luxury goods wouldn’t have thought that social media users would be their customers but 46 percent of mass-affluents use social media; it’s no longer just teenagers in their bedrooms,” says Chippindale. “Tissot’s customers were buying flights online but before we worked with them they didn’t have a tool to talk to them online. We’re taking a traditional market and helping it to talk to today’s consumers.”

But this sort of talk isn’t cheap. While Holition says that it can find ways to work with up-and-coming brands, individual retailers and any budget, and that its prices are “not prohibitively expensive”, it says a typical 3D campaign will cost in the region of four print ads in a consumer magazine. It’s an ambiguous answer, but if you work it out by looking at consumer magazine rate cards, if we compare it to Grazia it would mean upwards of £40,000 or if we look at FHM then that’s upwards of £80,000.

So the question has to be, what do I get for my money? PR is the obvious answer and in Tissot’s case a huge PR boost came hand in hand with a gigantic sales uplift, but Chippindale believes the future of 3D marketing will eventually be as a sales tool for online retail sales.

“At the moment they are looking at it from a marketing perspective but with the Tissot campaign it is clear that the way it is going to go is that jewellery brands and watch brands will have all their products online in 3D,” forecasts Chippindale.

He believes that 3D shopping will be the norm in years to come. Just as retailers such as Asos have started incorporating video onto their sites, 3D will be the next step and shoppers of the near future will be able to virtually try before they buy. “Why wouldn’t you want to try that watch on instead of buying from a picture?” asks Chippindale. “Very quickly there will be questions about why a brand isn’t using it.”

In the mean time the technology keeps evolving. It is already possible to virtually try on rings at home without any paper markers – the pro-gramme recognises the five digits and uses that to judge where the ring should be – and Chippindale says that the possibilities are endless.

As fiction becomes reality, augmented retail will move on from the wow factor associated with technology in films like Avatar to another Hollywood blockbuster, Minority Report. In this futuristic film Tom Cruise’s character walks into a Gap store and is instantly recognised by having his eyes scanned and a hologram greets him and asks how his previous purchase has worked out.

At the time this seemed like an unrealistic concept, but Chippindale laughs when discussing the film. “It’s already out of date,” he chuckles. “If you think about the scene where they load information onto glass slides to move it across the room to another computer, that has already been surpassed as the film was made before wireless networks.”

And the retail scene in Gap? “We are speaking to clients at the mo¬ment about facial recognition,” says Chippindale. “We already have markerless technology and facial recognition is not that far away.”

When online jewellery retail started to emerge there were many who said it wouldn’t work, that nobody would buy luxury goods online and no doubt the same will be said about 3D retail. But European shoppers spent £38 billion online in 2009, accounting for a third of total retail sales, and the UK spent more online than any other European country.

Much of what seemed impossible five years ago is standard today and if 3D seems like a slice of the future that is pure gimmick now, in another five years, just like online retail, companies will be struggling to catch up.

Holition describes itself as a group of futurists, but with its super advanced technology it seems that the future is now and the future is in 3D.

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